We all know that exercise is vital for our whole body’s health, but the benefits are more evident with physical aspects. Regular exercise can help you lose weight, gain muscle mass, and ward off many illnesses and diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. But what about the brain and mental health?
Mental Health Benefits
Many people exercise for both physical and cognitive wellbeing. There are many benefits of exercise, including to the brain and to improve mental health. There are several health issues, diseases, and disorders that exercise can help, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and more.
Exercise is a natural mood booster. Those struggling with depression can find relief with regular, consistent training. One study showed that a 15-minute run or an hour-long walk could curb the risk of depression by 26%. Same for anxiety, which is the most common mental illness in the United States. Exercise can reduce stress and provides a rhythmic distraction to the woes and worries of life. Using sports and physical activity for mental health is a critical ingredient in stress reduction, which can then help control depression and anxiety.
Another benefit of exercise for mental health is the brain’s serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels. These chemicals impact your ability to focus. We all have days when we’re distracted and can’t seem to pay attention, or some of us suffer from ailments like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Exercise enhances these chemical levels, which then—aside from also boosting our mood—improve memory retention and our ability to concentrate.
Those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other issues related to trauma, can also improve mental health with exercise. By moving your body in a rhythm, especially using arms and legs, physical activity pushes your nervous system out of its usual feelings of fatigue or unbalance. Instead, exercise boosts your mood, releases chemicals, and uses rhythmic movement to push your brain out of its stress response.
Mental Health and the Brain
All of this is related to brain health, which exercise enhances. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are the chemicals mentioned above that make you feel good and improve energy. Your brain also enjoys neural growth and reduced inflammation with sports and physical activity. These results lead to general feelings of happiness and well-being, proving that exercise is an excellent tool for improving mental health and brain functionality.